The station is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Its antenna is located on Bald Hill in Farmingville, New York, broadcasting at 3600 watts at 604 feet above sea level, covering most of Long Island (Nassau and Suffolk counties), parts of Southern Connecticut, Westchester County and even some of the easternmost parts of Queens in New York City.
The station has been broadcasting on the FM band since June 27, 1977, and from its current location in Bald Hill since 1995. From 1977 to 1995, the station's transmitter and antenna were located on campus, atop the Graduate Chemistry building. Prior to 1977, the station broadcast only to the Stony Brook University campus via carrier current on 820 kHz on the AM band. Studios have remained in Stony Brook University's Student Union building. WUSB is partially listener-supported.
The station began in 1962 as a carrier current station, broadcasting only within the confines of the then-new Stony Brook campus on 820 kHz on the AM band. The station was, at the time, an integral part of Stony Brook University's once lively concert scene, which brought such bands and acts as Simon and Garfunkel, Thelonious Monk, The Grateful Dead (in their first-ever East Coast concert appearance), Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Arlo Guthrie, Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, the Allman Brothers Band, Pink Floyd, Van Morrison, The Who, Jethro Tull, Cat Stevens, Hot Tuna, Santana, Stony Brook's own Blue Öyster Cult, the Beach Boys, Frank Zappa, Billy Joel, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Jerry Garcia and more. Many of these musicians paid a visit to the station as well. In its earliest days, the studios were located in a "hole in the ground" in the Pritchard Gymnasium, before relocating to another cramped space in the basement of one of the dormitories, James College. One of the station's broadcasters, Paul (the Bean) Kornreich, was not only one of the station's DJ's but also its first basketball announcer. In 1975, the studios then moved to the Student Union, Room 240, where they remain to this day.
In 1965, SUNY mandated that all of its campus radio stations across the state make the transition to FM, as part of its master plan for the university system. Since it was up to each individual school to obtain a license on its own, WUSB began a long battle to get a spot on the increasingly crowded FM dial. Efforts to get the station on FM began in 1970, originally with an attempt to purchase a plot of land near campus to build a transmitter. SUNY regulations, however, prevented that from happening. Ultimately, construction began on a tower at the top of the Graduate Chemistry building, which, at the time, was the tallest building on the Stony Brook campus, and approval for the construction of the new station was received from the State University Board of Trustees in 1973.
However, WUSB's construction permit was challenged by Adelphi University, whose station, WBAU, which at the time broadcast on the first-adjacent frequency, 90.3, out of Garden City on Long Island (but which is no longer on the air), objected to the proposed station, citing potential interference to their signal. However, the FCC overruled WBAU's objections in 1976, and granted WUSB a license to begin broadcasting in 1977.
At the time, WUSB was Long Island's most powerful non-commercial radio station, putting out 4000 watts of power, primarily covering central Suffolk County. The station signed on as an FM station for the first time on June 27, 1977, at 5:30 in the afternoon.
The station's first General Manager was Norm Prusslin, a University alumnus, employee, adjunct professor and advisor. He held this position continuously until his retirement in early 2006. He was later succeeded as General Manager by Isobel Breheny Schafer. Many of the station's original volunteers, including its Chief Engineer, Frank Burgert, were students in 1977. Many alumni of Stony Brook remain to this day as WUSB volunteers. Rich Koch was the station's first Program Director when the station began broadcasting on the FM dial, and he also remains as an active WUSB staffer.
The initial location of WUSB's antenna provided excellent coverage to the campus and much of Long Island's North Shore, but the high wattage of the station began to have adverse effects on experiments conducted in laboratories of the Chemistry building, as well as those in the nearby Physics building. In the mid-1980s, it was determined that, to eliminate interference, the antenna would either have to be moved or have its power drastically reduced. It was decided to move the antenna to a new off campus location.
After many potential locations were examined across Suffolk County, an agreement was reached with the owners of a new tower being constructed at Bald Hill in Farmingville, one of the highest points on Long Island. WBLI had already signed on as a tenant on the new tower, and WUSB leased space on the new tower as well. However, objections were raised again, with first-adjacent stations broadcasting on 89.9 and 90.3 FM on Long Island. WUSB ultimately was able to successfully overcome these objections, and since November, 1995, had broadcast from the top of the "Mile High" tower at Farmingville. The move also resulted in WUSB increasing its geographic coverage of Long Island (within its primary and secondary signal contours) by close to 100%, despite the fact that power was lowered to 3600 watts as part of the move. An unfortunate byproduct of the move was that reception on campus worsened, due to local topography and structures creating partial barriers between the University and Bald Hill.
During normal operations, WUSB's audio signal is sent from its studios to the transmitter site via a T1 line. However, the old antenna location, atop the Graduate Chemistry building, remains as an emergency alternative to the Farmingville transmitter site, as well as an emergency studio-transmitter link to the Farmingville tower.
In 2003, WUSB applied for two translators which (if approved by the FCC) will allow the station to rebroadcast its signal on other frequencies in the North Shore, improving signal strength in other areas such as the main campus where there are dead spots or interference from other stations. These applications are still pending.
WUSB has traditionally been funded by students through the Undergraduate Student Government (formerly known as Polity). Since 1989, WUSB has held annual radiothons (originally once per year, now twice per year, in the fall and spring) to raise money from listeners to pay for the station's operating expenses. Much of the money raised goes to pay for the station's transmitter lease and fixed operating expenses.
Since its inception, WUSB has provided free-form programming, encompassing a variety of different styles and genres, ranging from jazz and classical, to punk rock, reggae and world music, and many genres in between. Additionally, the station also aired a large variety of public affairs programs, ethnic programs, and programming of interest to students.
To this day, WUSB's programming remains consistently inconsistent! Many original volunteer staffers remain involved with WUSB, along with newer volunteers who range from undergraduate and graduate students, to alumni, university staff, and local community residents, as well as listeners who have become involved with the station.
Originally, the station broadcast from 7 a.m. (8 a.m. on the weekends) to 2:30 a.m. Over time, WUSB began to broadcast 24 hours per day, which it still does today with rare exceptions. Notable programming included The Early Morning Riser, hosted by General Manager Norm Prusslin, Turmoil, which became the longest-running punk rock radio program in the world before ending its run in 2004, Onda Nueva, featuring Salsa music and public affairs programming geared to Long Island's Latino community and which has been on the air since the late 1970s, and Saturday's a Party, which remains on the air to this day as the world's longest-running Reggae music program on the radio.
Morning programming is usually dedicated to eclectic forms of music, ranging from contemporary to exotic to hiphop blues. Jazz musician Sam Taylor hosted a live program (Sam Taylor's Blues) every Friday morning, until his death in 2009.
Midday and early afternoon programming features public affairs and political commentary. On weekday afternoons, between 2:30 to 5:00 p.m., WUSB has traditionally featured new music, ranging from punk to indie to electronic music to underground hip-hop. On weekday afternoons from 5 to 6 pm, WUSB rebroadcasts the nationally syndicated Democracy Now! (hosted by Amy Goodman, of DCTV).
Early evenings feature a variety of programming, ranging from "Seawolves Night Live" on Monday nights at 7 p.m., Emmanuel Goldstein's Off the Wall on Tuesdays, to programming featuring campus and student issues, the local music scene, folk music, and more. Late evenings are almost exclusively dedicated to music, featuring such genres as rockabilly, new wave, global music, soul, reggae, hip-hop, industrial, noise, blues, Bluegrass, classic rock and more. On Friday nights, Destinies-The Voice of Science Fiction airs; the longest-running (since 1983), and possibly only science fiction radio program on college radio. The music continues into the overnight hours, where a mixture of first-time DJ's and long-time volunteers air a variety of genres, including some material which is only legally permitted by the FCC to be aired between the safe harbor hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m..
Weekend programming features a lot of ethnic fare, including Onda Nueva, Polka, and programming in Italian, Korean and Chinese, as well as jazz, country music, a cappella, children's music, Celtic and folk music, electronic music, political talk, and The Sports Section, Long Island's longest-running live sports call-in show.
WUSB also airs many Stony Brook University events, ceremonies and lectures, including numerous broadcasts of Stony Brook's NCAA Division I WUSB SPORTS BLOG teams, the Stony Brook Seawolves, as well as the university's winter and spring commencement ceremonies. Numerous public service announcements are also regularly aired.
WUSB is a member of many organizations, including the National Association of Broadcasters, the Press Club of Long Island, and the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System (IBS). For the past several years, WUSB has served as the host station for IBS's national conference, held in New York City each March.
Each fall and spring, WUSB holds a radio training class, open to all residents of the community as well as University students, who are interested in learning more about radio and broadcasting, and offering the opportunity for interested individuals to become volunteer staff at the station, upon successful completion of training and approval of the Program Director. On occasion, a training class is also offered by the station during the summer months.